The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday wrote to five states that have reported a daily surge in new coronavirus cases and asked them to expedite vaccination of healthcare staff and frontline workers in districts that have recorded the biggest spikes in fresh infections.
“… confer immunity in shortest possible time frame to healthcare and frontline workers, as they are also involved in containment, surveillance and management of COVID-19 cases,” said the letter that was sent to Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, J&K and Chhattisgarh.
In Maharashtra (the worst-affected state), vaccinations are to be fast-tracked in six districts – Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai (and suburban areas), Amravati, Thane and Akola.
In Madhya Pradesh, Indore, Bhopal and Betul districts have been identified.
In Punjab these are SBS Nagar, Kapurthala and Sri Muktsar Sahib.
In the Union Territory of J&K it is Pulwama and in Chhattisgarh it is Rajnandgaon.
India began its national vaccination drive on January 16, with the target of vaccinating three crore healthcare staff and frontline workers in the first phase.
However, to date only around 1.19 crore people have been vaccinated.
The second stage of vaccination – in which 27 crore people over the age of 50 (and those under but with co-morbidities) – will get the shots in mid-march, the centre has said.
Earlier today Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan took part in a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office to review the Covid situation in the country.
The meeting took place amid the backdrop of both rising cases and amid concern over mutated strains that are circulating in the country.
Last week Dr Shahshank Joshi, a member of Maharashtra’s Covid Task Force, had told NDTV that 240 new strains had emerged across India, and suggested that these could be the reason for the spike in cases.
However, the centre today said it was too soon to connect these dots.
Dr VK Paul, member of government think-tank NITI Aayog said that “to relate occurrence of virus mutation to change in disease pattern, other epidemiological information” is necessary.
Union Health Ministry sources said this morning that between 800 and 900 samples – from Maharashtra and Kerala – had been sent for genome sequencing in the past month.
Samples for genome sequencing – to understand the complete genetics of the virus – have also been sought from Punjab and Bengaluru, where, in the past few days alone, two apartment complexes have been declared “containment zones” and sealed.
So far genome sequencing of nearly 6,000 samples have been completed.
While authorities are still not sure how many of these new cases (if any, at all) are from the new mutated strains of the virus, government officials have admitted India’s genome sequencing has been below the mark so far, and that this needs to change in the coming weeks.
Last week the centre also warned the aforementioned states that they must continue to practice Covid-appropriate behaviour, including the use of face masks and social distancing in public.
India has, so far, reported 187 cases of the UK strain of the virus. The South African strain has been detected in six people and the Brazil variant in one.